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Penn Hills Council postpones decision on Imagine trailer extension

| Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Imagine Penn Hills officials are building a new home for students in the former Anter building, above, located at 1700 Universal Road. The building was previously a school until the mid-'70s. Imagine officials plan to add a second building to the campus.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Imagine Penn Hills officials are hoping to find a new home for students in the former Anter building, above, located at 1700 Universal Road.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
The former Anter Building on Universal Road, which once housed a school, is becoming an Arsenal Cider House production facility.
Patrick Varine | Penn Hills Progress
Imagine Penn Hills officials are hoping to find a new home for students in the former Anter building, above, located at 1700 Universal Road.

Peter Randazzo of Penn Hills was among the parents who attended a Penn Hills Council meeting last year in support of the installation of temporary modular classrooms on the Imagine Penn Hills campus.

Last week, Randazzo was back in front of council and far less supportive of the classroom trailers, particularly after new principal Carolyn Davis could not say for certain whether the trailers were equipped with sprinkler systems or whether they had fire alarms that were wired into the main school building.

A host of issues were raised at council's June 10 meeting, where Imagine officials, through subsidiary Schoolhouse Finance LLC, were requesting a one-year extension for the conditional use permitting the placement of the classroom trailers.

The original conditional use will expire June 30.

Imagine has added a new grade level each year as students have progressed — next year, the school's third-graders will become fourth-graders, and a new group of kindergarten students will be starting.

Attorney Alan Shuckrow, representing Imagine, said school officials were requesting the extension because their original plans for accommodating students did not work out: the school secured a use variance for classroom space at 10070 Frankstown Road, but Shuckrow said the property had recently gone into receivership and was not currently usable.

Imagine officials also were hoping to purchase additional Penn Hills School District buildings — the charter school is currently housed in the former William Penn Elementary — but none of the other buildings in the district are currently available.

“The school looked diligently for another site, and found one, but it will not be ready until the 2014-15 school year,” Shuckrow told council.

The property, which Imagine has under a sales agreement signed June 6, is 1700 Universal Road, the former Anter building.

The property was an elementary school at one time, more than 40 years ago.

For the 2013-14 academic year, Shuckrow said Imagine officials are able to accommodate a fourth grade and a new kindergarten class if they are permitted to keep the modular classrooms for one more year.

Deputy Mayor Sara Kuhn criticized what she perceived as a discrepancy in Imagine's proposed plans.

“You came here last year and said you needed these trailers because you weren't able to properly house students, even though the (building) held many more children when it was a public elementary school. And now you're saying that next year, you'll be able to add a grade without expanding your square footage at all?” she asked.

Davis said the plan is to temporarily convert an art room and a student-resource room into classrooms.

“We are where we are, but we do have a workable solution,” Shuckrow said, adding that Imagine was willing to add an additional condition: that under no circumstances will the school be permitted to request an additional extension for the trailers.

With regard to the new building, Shuckrow deferred to Andy Schaer of Tusk Development in Carnegie, who said granting the extension would allow enough time “to do what we need to do to be ready by next fall … because it was built initially as a school, it has good potential to become one again.”

Schaer said this would be the fifth building Tusk has converted into a school.

At the suggestion of solicitor Bruce Dice, council will bring the matter back at its next meeting. Dice suggested including a local fire official who could speak to the issues Randazzo raised, before making a final decision on the conditional-use extension.

Shuckrow said in an email to the Progress that all of the modular units are in compliance with municipal codes, “as confirmed by last year's issuance of permits for those units ... once we receive the extension to use the modular units for an additional year, we will proceed with an expansion of the intercom system and an amplification unit that will ensure fire alarms within the main building can be heard in the modular units, even though these items are not required by the current building codes.”

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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